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N.M. Official Concerned About Proposed Power Plant

By Susan Montoya Bryan
Associated Press
      The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to meet with the state Environment Department about potential impacts to threatened and endangered species by a proposed coal-fired power plant on Navajo land in northwestern New Mexico.
    Environment Secretary Ron Curry requested the meeting to discuss the biological assessment of the Desert Rock Energy Project, which is being developed by Houston-based Sithe Global Power and the Navajo Nation.
    Curry said Wednesday the assessment indicates mercury and other chemicals will be emitted by the plant and those chemicals will have an impact on the San Juan River and the Rio Grande as well as species living there.
    "New Mexico already suffers from the highest emissions of mercury in the nation and San Juan County has the highest mercury emissions in the state," Curry said. "We must do everything possible to protect our rivers, streams, fish and wildlife from impacts from the proposed facility."
    San Juan County is already home to two coal-fired power plants, and critics have complained that Desert Rock would further degrade air quality and harm the environment and public health.
    But Desert Rock developers maintain that the plant's emissions control equipment would make it the cleanest coal-fired plant in the nation.
    Frank Maisano, a spokesman for Sithe Global, said Curry's announcement is another effort by the state to mislead people about the proposed plant.
    "The modeling shows that the mercury emissions are going to be really low because we're using such advanced pollution controls," Maisano said. "Mercury, while always a concern, is never going to rise to the levels here where it would be an issue to be worried about."
    George Hardeen, a spokesman for the Navajo Nation, said Wednesday that Desert Rock is the most important project the tribe has ever undertaken.
    He also criticized Curry for not consulting tribal leaders regarding Desert Rock despite a bill signed into law just weeks ago by Gov. Bill Richardson to promote cooperation between state government and Indian tribes.
    Jose Viramontes, a spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Albuquerque, said the agency has accepted Curry's invitation to meet.
    "Any time we can get any scientific information that will increase our knowledge of potential impacts to endangered species, we welcome that type of information," Viramontes said.
    The agency is reviewing the biological assessment and plans to complete a draft opinion by the summer, he said.


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